Gates, wife give $1 billion for minority-student fund; College scholarships match charitable record


SEATTLE -- With the goal of producing "a new generation of leaders," Bill and Melinda Gates are giving $1 billion to fund scholarships for minority college students.

The amount, $50 million a year for 20 years, matches the largest charitable gift ever, the $1 billion donated to the United Nations by media mogul Ted Turner. The grant comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, created last month through a merger of the William H. Gates Foundation and Gates Learning Foundation.

It will provide a minimum of 1,000 new students each year with any money they need to pay for their education, beyond any other financial aid they get.

The program is a response to anti-affirmative-action measures such as last year's Initiative 200, which prohibits race-based admission policies at Washington state colleges and universities.

"The possibility to dream and to have a future and to have a horizon is absolutely so critical to a child, a young child," Melinda Gates said yesterday in announcing the program. "And yet, as we look, there are many students, minority students, who don't have that horizon."

The message of this program, she added, is this: "There is the opportunity to go to college."

William H. Gray III, the head of the United Negro College Fund, will help administer the program. Gray, a former congressman, is close to the White House, congressional leaders and civic activists.

"If we're going to prosper, this kind of involvement is absolutely critical," Gray said yesterday. The scholarships will provide "building blocks for a new, better and more prosperous America that will be the global leader."

The Gates Millennium Scholars Program will target the fields of math, science, education, library science and engineering, where minorities are "severely under-represented," said Trevor Neilson, a spokesman for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Bill and Melinda are committed to using their wealth to improve people's lives, and they both feel education is the key to success," Neilson said. "They think this is the right thing to do."

Jack Faris, director of community strategies for the foundation, said no single influence or event convinced the Gateses to choose this as their biggest gift so far. They have been looking at the possibility of contributing to minority-education efforts for two years, he said.

"Bill and Melinda have big, open hearts," Faris said. "Their personal experiences can be shaped by contacts with people who are devoting their lives to important causes."

There was no deliberate intention to have this be the foundation's largest program, Faris said. The timing of the announcement was determined by the need to let high-school students apply for the scholarships for the next school year.

The scholarships will be administered through the United Negro College Fund, the American Indian College Fund and the Hispanic College Fund.

If students maintain a sufficient grade-point average, the scholarships would extend through undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Pub Date: 9/17/99

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